How The Little Mermaid sparked the famous Disney Renaissance (1989)

The vintage Disney movie The Little Mermaid from 1989 at ClickAmericana com

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The Little Mermaid, released in 1989, marked a significant turning point for Disney, initiating what many consider the Renaissance era of their animated feature films.

This adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale introduced audiences to Ariel, a mermaid princess whose curiosity about the human world sparks a journey fraught with challenges and transformations.

Little Mermaid movie scene from 1989 (4)

Notably, the film’s success was buoyed (see what we did there?) by its musical score, composed by Alan Menken, with songs like “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World” becoming instant classics.

The innovative animation techniques, combined with a compelling narrative, not only garnered critical acclaim but also reinvigorated interest in animated storytelling.

See below, where we’ve gathered up a retro feature article from back in 1989, along with some stills and throwback videos.

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The Little Mermaid brings more happy endings for Disney

Few stars remain from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Bette Davis — all long gone. The survivors — James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy — rarely make movies anymore.

But one popular collection of screen idols has endured, looks undiminished by age: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy.

How old are they? Only their illustrators know for sure. But they’ve been around more than 50 years, and should last at least 50 more.

Little Mermaid movie poster 1989

Their studio is intact as well. Hollywood’s happiest endings still come from Walt Disney Pictures.

Nothing like a cartoon to stop time, and even pull it back a little. Only at Disney are glass slippers, handsome princes and magic wands accepted without reservation.

The latest animated spectacular from the Disney machine is “The Little Mermaid,” a multi-million-dollar feature that’s bound to generate more big bucks for the highly successful studio. Disney’s last animated feature, “Oliver and Company,” has grossed about $50 million. A re-release this year of “Peter Pan” has pulled in $30 million.

Little Mermaid movie scene from 1989 (5)

Not a movie made for cynics

Cynics better stay away from the latest Disney animated spectacular, “The Little Mermaid.” They’ll never believe this story about a beautiful, blue-eyed mermaid falling in love with a handsome prince, and goodness defeating the evil sea witch.

Of course, cynics wouldn’t have sat through “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella” or “Bambi,” either. As Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg said, “The Little Mermaid” takes a lot of its glitter from those golden oldies.

Little Mermaid movie scene from 1989 (1)

The Little Mermaid
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Rene Auberjonois, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Jodi Benson (Actors)
  • John Musker (Director) - John Musker (Writer) - John Musker (Producer)

“I wanted us to make a film that had the look and feel and the entertainment and lushness of ‘Pinocchio’,” he said.

“If you talk with writers, directors, animators, designers, effects people, layout artists — across the board in this movie — all the references that I made, the goals I kept setting for them were, ‘Can’t we do something that is like ‘Pinocchio.”‘

(Article continued below)

ALSO SEE: 16 breathtakingly gorgeous vintage evening gowns with long skirts so full they’d make a Disney Princess jealous


The Little Mermaid movie trailer

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“The Little Mermaid” is rated “G,” for general audiences. That is how Katzenberg sees it.

Say the film is for children and he will grimace, his eyes widening, the jaw stretching. Family entertainment means the entire family, he said.

“They’re fantastic stories, they’re not children’s stories. They’re great stories and they’re made for the kid inside every one of us, as opposed to made for children; there’s a real distinction there.

Little Mermaid movie scene from 1989 (2)

“We try to make it very intelligent, very smart, very sophisticated. There is very little about the film that is cartoonish. Even when it’s animal characters that are speaking, you’ll notice it’s very sophisticated.”

Ask about romance, action, drama, and Katzenberg will talk strategy, borrowing a page from film mogul Samuel Goldwyn, who insisted the world needed laughter when his competitors were serious, and lamented the disappearance of “messages” when others turned out comedies.

ALSO SEE: Live action plus animation are magic in Disney’s classic movie, ‘Mary Poppins’

Disney Little Mermaid - Ariel gets legs

But animation belongs to Disney. Who would want to compete with “The Ugly Ducking,” “Peter Pan,” “Fantasia” and dozens of others?

It’s a tradition Katzenberg wouldn’t dream of touching, although a little retouching doesn’t hurt.

For “The Little Mermaid,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, that means the richest colors; the brightest melodies, courtesy of “Little Shop of Horrors” composer Alan Menken; and the most vivid illustrations.

Little Mermaid movie scene from 1989 (3)

Nothing is left to chance. Everyone has to rehearse, even mermaids.

“There’s not a sequence in the film in which there are human characters not staged and shot on film and used as references in order to make sure that the human characters moved very much like people move.

“We built an eight-foot tank, put a woman in it and had her swim around a lot to get the sense of movement and hair – how it moves through the water, and the sense of weightlessness.”

YouTube video

ALSO SEE: Classic Walt Disney Home Video VHS movies & short collections from the ’80s & ’90s

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